Madeira – the island of eternal spring

Mountains rise from the volcanic soil with thick cloudy mist and humid ocean breezes battling for space. Papayas hang heavy on the trees and pockets of banana plantations squeeze up alongside cane plots and vineyards. White pointy church spires poke out between lush, verdant hills, surrounding by scattering of terracotta-roofed villages. Madeira is tropical Portugal; Madeira is magic. With terrain like no other, the autonomous island archipelago of Madeira sits closer to Africa than Europe. Madeira Island is the main inhabited island and with a land mass of 801 km², it is best explored over four or five days. Extend your holiday to hop over to Porto Santo, the other island, by plane or ferry to see one of Europe’s best beaches.

Essential Madeira guides

5-day Madeira itinerary

Where to eat in Madeira

What to eat in Madeira

Best places to visit on Madeira's islands

1. Hike levada trails on Madeira Island

Madeira island is a natural wonderland. Make time to hike at least two or three trails, even if you’re not an experienced hiker.

2. Swim at Porto Moniz or Seixal

Dive into these volcanic sea pools with views over the endless blue ocean, or take a dip at a black sand beach surrounded by forest and waterfalls.

3. Zip over to Porto Santo

About 50km offshore, Porto Santo is a world of difference to Madeira Island. Enjoy the dry climate and golden sandy beaches.

4. Fly down the mountain in a basket

Madeira’s capital has loads to do, but the best thing to do is ride down the steep hills in a giant wicker basket.
Camara dos Lobos Madeira Island

Best things to do in Lisbon city

  • Hike 2-3 levada trails
  • Eat espetadas
  • Ride a cable car
  • Wander the local market in Funchal
  • Soak in the view from a miradouro
  • Swim at a black volcanic beach
  • Taste rum at the source
  • Relax in volcanic tidal pools
  • Dance around misty Fanal forest
  • Enjoy a seafood feast
Hiking tip… Madeira is more touristic than I expected (after enjoying the quiet of the Azores). It can get extremely busy with large tourist groups, so if you’re planning to hike any popular trails, make sure you set off early. This way you’ll enjoy the wild, verdant nature at its best (in silence!).

Where to stay

I recommend splitting your stay across the east and west of the island, with a night in Funchal if you need. I details how to do this in my five-day Madeira Island road trip itinerary with some suggestions.

One of my favourite ever stays is Casas da Levada, a lush wonderland of old stone cottages and an infinity pool overlooking the sea.

What to eat

Bolo de caco. Milho frito. Peixe espada. Lapas. Maracujá. Madeira Island might be part of Portugal, but this sub-tropical drop in the Atlantic has its own strong identity – and most importantly, unique dishes and foods to try. Check out my guides on what to eat and drink in Madeira, and where to eat on Madeira Island.

Getting to Madeira

Madeira Island is an easy flight from Portugal’s mainland. You can fly in from Porto, Lisbon or Faro, plus other European cities such as Berlin, Prague, Paris, and the Canary Islands.

The Madeira archipelago also has a second island, Porto Santo, which is almost the polar opposite in terms of landscape. Here find long, golden stretches of sand and a relatively flat and dry smaller island. Perfect for that beach vacation. You can hop between the two by ferry or plane, plus there are direct flights from Portuguese and Europen cities to Porto Santo.

How to get around

For somewhere like Madeira Island I love the freedom of renting a car to explore small villages, pull up at viewpoints and beat the crowds. If you can’t hire a car, there seems to be an okay public transport system that will get you around the island. Alternatively, lots of tour companies offer day trips and 4WD safaris you can book to explore more of the wild landscape.

Join the list

Subscribe to my newsletter and receive the latest stories once per month